Soft Shell

The latest


Coats for every adventure, from sunny singletrack to frigid summits

These men's jackets offer versatile protection for a variety of weather

Deer, ducks, and other quarry won't even know you're there

Fall clothes that look as good as they work

By focusing on breathability, Polartec Alpha works when you’re moving, too

Stay comfortable on the trail, whether you're out for two days or ten

It’s a material, not a pattern, damnit

Your best defense against snow, sun, and everything in between

When to wash your shell, how to apply a DWR, and whether to choose a spray-on or wash-in

When weather rolls in, grab one of these

Dress for success when you get snow, rain, and sunshine, all in 24 hours

Don’t leave home without a warm winter buddy.

Smart, classy apparel for the chilliest time of year.

Après layers that pull double duty on the trails and slopes

The champion of the waterproof-breathable hardshell is getting soft

Barely-there shells for all kinds of conditions

Running to work is hard, especially when you have to contend with cold weather, poor visibility, and icy roads. On those days, your gear matters.

Glow-in-the-dark apparel for after-hours commuting

You should be packing like a technomad.

I ran my first ultra, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile on December 7. Save two missing toenails and a pinky toe that looks like it belongs on a cadaver, I think I am far enough away from the pain to write about the gear that helped…

The Halogen can’t do it all, but it does so much so well that it rates as one of the most versatile winter jackets we’ve ever tested.

This gold-standard shell holds its own come wind, rain, snow, or shine—and plays well with others

The Marmot prodigy is a do-it-all soft shell

Outside reviews the best gear in the Summer 2013 Buyer’s Guide, including the Rab Maverick.

A company never satisfied with the status quo has designed two new jackets that are as cozy and comfortable as some of your favorite pieces

In the past 12 months, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Polartec, Gore-Tex, and Stoic have introduced new waterproof-breathable membranes. We won’t bore you with the wonky details of their lofty claims; all you need to know is that each is more breathable than many of the jackets we’ve been raving about for years.

These shells offer equal parts protection and comfort. We reviewed the Columbia Flyin' Dry, with its waterproof, breathable membrane and roomy back pocket; the Marmot Tempo Hoody, which kept our tester toasty on mountain runs and hikes during a windy season; the super-stretchy First Ascent High Season; and others.

Nordic skiers and cold-climate runners will love this aerobic-oriented jacket, which has a wind-blocking front face and a thin, breathable back.

In 2005, I bought a Mountain Equipment Co-Op Composite 2 softshell jacket. It's the best purchase I have ever made. Unfortunately, seven years later it's starting to pile. I need a replacement. What do you recommend? Blair Turner, Saskatoon, SK

Outside picks the essentials for January, including the Westcomb Switch LT Hoody.

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2012 Winter Buyer's Guide, including the Nau 3/4 Length Cocoon jacket.

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2012 Winter Buyer's Guide, including the K2 Rescue Shovel Plus.

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2012 Winter Buyer's Guide, including the Canada Goose HyBridge Lite jacket

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2012 Winter Buyer's Guide, including the Helly Hansen Odin Mountain jacket.

Ice climbing season is coming up and I need to decide whether to buy a hardshell or a softshell. Which do you prefer for climbing?

Four softshells hard enough for any weather, including The North Face's Jammu.

Four softshells hard enough for any weather, including Columbia Sportswear’s Key Three.

Four softshells hard enough for any weather, including Millet’s Trilogy ­Limited WDS Hoodie.

Four softshells hard enough for any weather, including the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Hyalite.

An ultralight anorak for fast-and-light missions

Cooling Agents: Our favorite ultralight gear for sweltering summer runs, including the North Face Better Than Naked jacket.

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2011 Summer Buyers Guide, including the Outdoor Research Cirque Windshirt.

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2011 Summer Buyers Guide, including the Arc'teryx Epsilon SV Hoody.

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2011 Summer Buyers Guide, including the First Ascent Sandstone Jacket.

July 15-17, Alta, Wyoming.

What is your recommendation for a windproof soft shell woman's jacket with good breathability and water resistance? I will be operating Zodiacs in 20- to 40-degree weather in the Russian Far East and need a good range of movement. Thank you.LaurieGaylord, MI

What's the best technical soft shell? — Laura Baltimore, Maryland

I'm looking for a lightly-insulated jacket to ski in and use for general winter wear. I would love something that is waterproof, stretchy, layerable, and versatile. The big thing is, I need it to FIT. I'm a short guy (5'6") with an athletic build. Seems like whenever I try on jackets at a retailer, the sleeve cuffs are dragging on the floor. Any advice for us shorties who are in search of the magic shell? Jon Cleveland, OH

What is the best soft shell for cross-country skiing? Paul Ely, MN

My son has requested a soft shell jacket as a gift. He seeks something similar to his Columbia shell with internal fleece jackets (3-in-1) of his youth. I think he wants the shell and doesn't care if it zips into a liner. Your suggestions? Susan Cedar Rapids, MI

Essential winter running clothes and accessories.

REFRESHINGLY UNFUSSY When Jackson, Wyoming–based Cloudveil promises a do-it-all mountain soft shell for under $150, the smart money gives it a try. So our Jackson-based tester did everything in it: He biked to work in light rain and snow, boot-packed up Glory Bowl in 20-degree weather with just a lightweight…

Good for Backcountry There are lots of versatile soft shells in this price range, but none as smartly constructed as the Baltoro Alpine. The stowable hood was the best we tested: A three-point adjustment secures over hat or helmet, while the moldable wire-stiffened brim can be tucked…

CAN TAKE A BEATING This past fall, we sent three Boulder-based climbers to Moab’s Castleton Tower with half a dozen soft shells to test. And after a week of shimmying up tight sandstone chimneys and off-widths, the stretchy Current emerged as the sturdiest and most waterproof of the bunch. The…

Mountain With one zippered pocket out back, a semifitted cut, and wind-cutting stretch polyester, the soft-shell-like Launch was a tester favorite on fall rides. Of course, truth be told, we saw said tester wearing it around town just as often.      …

Welcome to Savile Row. Enter your measurements and choose options on Beyond’s Web site and a couple weeks later take delivery of a custom-fit, custom-featured soft shell—I designed a model for cycling and nordic skiing. The one nonnegotiable characteristic—Schoeller Dryskin Extreme fabric—kept me just right during a 15-mph road…

WIND Made of stretchy Windstopper soft shell with ultralight fleece insulation, the Venta shields against all but cyclone-strength wind and water. The hood fits well over a helmet but doesn’t fall into your eyes on hat days.…

1. The Hercules garnered more envious comments than any other jacket we tested—there’s just something about a sharp-looking soft shell with a fuzz-lined hood that people can’t resist. But less obvious touches—like flap-free drawcords and cuffs that repelled snow and rain without feeling constrictive or bulky—are what ultimately…

Good for Backcountry It stretches and feels like a soft shell, but thanks to a waterproof-breathable membrane, taped seams, and waterproof YKK zippers, the Higgins repels snow and rain like a top-of-the-line hard shell. And, as with most stuff FlyLow makes, the Higgins can take a beating.

SIMPLE BUT VERSATILE First impression: generic name, not many features. But we decided to give it a chance thanks to its comfy fit, good looks, and the fact that it costs half as much as the most technical jackets here. Final impression: It’s a solid jacket for the money.

There’s nothing like slipping into something as soft as butter when your limbs feel like Jell-O. This French terry track jacket features feminine details (an empire waist and side tie) but is as comfortable as your college sweatshirt.…

Get howitzer-like bang for your buck with the Logic. Its functional midweight fabric—a stretchy nylon water-repellent face woven to a soft fleece lining—works for almost any activity from early spring to late fall. The high versatility is married to clean detailing (such as laser-cut zipper openings) normally reserved for…

SPRING Made of Polartec Windbloc, the Reyna stopped the wind like a mesh soccer jersey, which is to say, not so much. Still, we loved this soft shell for its fleece interior, cozy lined pockets, and stretchy shoulders that allow freedom of movement.…

INSULATED CONVERTIBLE Need variable warmth for variable conditions? The two-in-one Apollo, with its removable vest, is your jacket. The vest, insulated with synthetic fill, adds plenty of core warmth, but it snaps in or out in just a few seconds and adds very little bulk, allowing the jacket to fit…

Good for Backcountry In-bounds or out-of-bounds, the Skinnard has your back. With a ski-pass window, detachable powder skirt, and headphone port, it’s ready for a full day on the lifts (it’s cut to fit over bulky midlayers). And while the Skinnard has neither pit zips nor vented…

LIKES TO GO FAST We started testing this aptly named piece last spring, skiing Colorado’s Indian Peaks, and never put it away. It’s made with a tough but stretchy version of Gore Windstopper, a soft, light fabric that breathes incredibly well and still repels the elements. Though it’s not completely…

Layers are key when it comes to summiting peaks. You can drop 20 degrees and gain as much as 6,000 feet in elevation from trailhead to summit. This quick-dry, breathable, mostly nylon top wicks away sweat as you get moving but will also keep you warm when the mercury…

Sick of the bulk and crinkle of traditional shells? The doctor prescribes the new bargain-priced Patagonia Ready Mix, an airy dream of silky, stretchy protection that packs down to the size of a pomelo. This sensual soft shell is all you need for everything but the soppingest, most high-impact endeavors,…

The most breathable soft shell here, the Verglas was our favorite jacket for high-energy excursions. Whether testers were climbing or simply riding their bikes home from work, they were impressed with the Verglas’s vast comfort range. Credit the thumb loops, hood, and a woven nylon fabric that’s treated with…

BEST FOR BACKCOUNTRY Unlike a lot of windproof soft shells, which rely on an embedded membrane, the Winter Guide’s gale-thwarting abilities come from a supertight weave, enabling it to breathe better than most. During a day of ski touring in Washington’s North Cascades that involved everything from cold descents to…

Good for Resort Two words: Tricked. Out. The Glenn has everything from a removable powder skirt to a headphone port to pit zips. But here’s the deal: With the exception of the removable (and superfluous) “hiking suspenders,” testers approved of every add-on, especially the hand gaskets with…

BEST IN BAD WEATHER The Touring Hoodie is fashioned completely from Polartec Powershield, a time-tested fabric that still provides one of the best combinations of stretchiness, breathability, and protection from the elements. Its sleek, understated design makes it a great choice for everything from day hiking to walking the dog,…